OCDE PAL team honors six campuses, two advisors for building positive school environments

Six school-based Peer Assistance Leadership programs and two advisors received surprise visits from representatives of the Orange County Department of Education in May for promoting school environments that are caring, safe and supportive for all. 

Administered by the department, PAL programs promote youth empowerment by training students in leadership skills and giving them opportunities to practice these skills while supporting other students on campus. Youth leaders in grades four through twelve connect with peers and create positive school environments through a variety of support services, such as mentoring, new-student transition, mental health promotion, substance use prevention activities, and school-wide service learning projects.

The PAL program supports skill development in the areas of leadership, communication, team building and problem solving. It can be implemented as a club or class, or it can be incorporated into an existing leadership program, where students receive training in the PAL curriculum and plan campus outreach activities.

An effective program can assist schools in integrating many of the research-based activities that enhance youth engagement and connection to school and community, key protective factors against various high-risk behaviors.

“Thank you to all the outstanding PAL programs and advisors who truly exemplify the values of compassion, kindness and inclusion on their campuses and in their communities,” Deirdre Hill, OCDE’s program specialist, said. “We are so proud of all of you.” 

2024 Outstanding PAL Program Award honorees

  • Bernice Ayer Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
  • Brookhaven Elementary School, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District
  • Ladera Ranch Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
  • Las Flores K-8 School (elementary PAL program), Capistrano Unified School District
  • Palisades Elementary School, Capistrano Unified School District
  • Samuel E. Talbert Middle School, Fountain Valley School District

The 2024 Outstanding PAL Advisor Award honorees are:

Denene Barrone, Tustin Memorial Academy, Tustin Unified School District

Denene Barrone outstanding PAL advisor

Denene Barrone, a teacher and PAL Program advisor for the past five years at Tustin Memorial Academy in the Tustin Unified School District, champions youth leadership and confidence. Barrone empowers student role models by fostering idea generation and collaborative decision-making, giving them space to take charge with service projects aimed at enhancing the campus and surrounding community through acts of kindness.

Michael Waldinger, Ensign Intermediate School, Newport-Mesa Unified School District

Michael Waldinger, 2024 PAL Advisor Award receipient

Michael Waldinger, a PAL advisor for 17 years, offers students opportunities to develop transferable skills for their educational and professional journeys, enhancing leadership abilities and fostering student representation on campus. He advocates for collaboration among fellow advisors and is constantly seeking fresh ideas and resources to support his students. Waldinger is among three PAL advisors statewide trained in both elementary and secondary PAL curriculum.

In addition to the surprise visits, OCDE’s Media Services unit created the video above with Hill to formally announce the winners.

For more information, contact OCDE Program Specialist Deirdre Hill at 714-966-4342, or visit www.ocde.us/pal.